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Hearing on possible retrial for cigarette magnate Rodney Morrison

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison.

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison. Credit: Handout

A federal judge is scheduled to hold a hearing Friday in Central Islip on whether Poospatuck Indian Reservation cigarette magnate Rodney Morrison, who was acquitted on murder, arson, extortion and robbery charges in 2008, can be retried because of an alleged bribe offer made to a juror.

Morrison was convicted on gun possession and racketeering charges. U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley could take the unusual step of ordering a retrial on all charges, both those of which he was convicted and those of which he was acquitted, if the judge found the bribe allegation corrupted jury deliberations, nullifying all verdicts. One of Morrison's defense attorneys has argued that it would be fair to retry him on the charges for which he was convicted but it would amount to double jeopardy if he was tried a second time on charges for which he was acquitted.

It's an unusual legal situation never resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, David Moran, a law professor at the University of Michigan and an expert on double jeopardy, has said.

The situation arose because of the bizarre circumstances surrounding an alleged bribe offer made to one of the jurors five years ago during jury deliberations that included racketeering charges on the Mastic reservation.

The juror admitted in December that he received a phone call from a person he presumed was a Morrison relative offering the unspecified bribe.

Initially, the unidentified juror said he rebuffed the offer. Eventually the juror told the caller that he would accept the bribe despite having no intention of doing so. The juror said he never received the bribe, according to prosecutors.

The call to the juror came over a cellphone he found in the court parking lot next to the car that was going to take him home, according to court papers.

The juror said that several of the other jurors may have been aware of the bribe offer, the papers said.

Hurley, who has been presiding over the Morrison case, sentenced him to 10 years on the gun charge and Morrison could get up to 20 years on the racketeering charge involving massive cigarette bootlegging.

Federal prosecutors have argued in recent court papers that Morrison can be retried on all the original charges because of the circumstances surrounding the bribe.

Defense attorneys have argued that Morrison can only be retried on the charges of which he was convicted.

In court papers, Richard Levitt, a defense attorney for Morrison, has argued that federal investigators have not proved that if in fact a bribe offer did occur, it was sent by a Morrison relative. But federal prosecutors Nicole Boeckmann and James Miskiewicz have argued that because of the possible contamination of the jury during their deliberation neither the convictions nor the acquittals are valid and Morrison should be retried on all charges.

Levitt declined to comment Thursday, as did Robert Nardoza, the spokesman for the Eastern District.

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